She Speaks We Hear

Bringing women's voices together, unaltered, unadulterated


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A Snap Election Is Just What We Need For Our Democracy

Brenda from Bristol doesn’t want to hear this question, but  I will ask it anyway. Is the snap election a good thing or not? In short, I think it’s good and just what we need now for our democracy. Here’s why:

First of all, I think the UK has been in a sort of twilight zone since June 23rd last year. A range of epoch defining changes have taken place in the last 12 months. Many political and economic assumptions have been upturned and people are more engaged with politics than they have been for quite sometime. Yet, until today there was no prospect of us having the chance to express our views on any of the issues that are splitting us down the middle. Is immigration more important than single market access in Brexit? How should funding for the NHS and social care be found? Are more Grammar schools the way forward? Is the economy working for everyone? Should we be allied to Trump at all costs post Brexit? All these issues can now be debated and people can vote accordingly. This can only be a good thing for our democracy.

Secondly, the U.K. desperately needs an effective Opposition to whichever Government is elected on June 8th. Without a dramatic change in Labour’s leadership, there is nothing to mitigate against the worst instincts of the Brexiteers, the right wing press and the other extremists (yes, they are!) who currently drive Tory policy. On the issue of the job of the Opposition, the Labour Party fairly and squarely must bear the responsibility for simply not showing up for work. So many bad Government policy decisions have gone unchecked by Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs. There is no need to go into the why’s here, but Corbyn is just not able to convince enough voters that his Labour Party is ‘The Government In Waiting’.

Nevertheless, many people remain committed fans of Jeremy Corbyn. They feel he envisages something they believe in and I respect that. However, leadership is about having a vision as well as delivering on it. There is no point in having nice ideas if you cannot motivate people to vote for you. If I may, I would ask supporters of Jeremy Corbyn to quit complaining about the Blairites/media/any external factors causing him to be 20 points behind in the polls and to put their time and energy into where they say their heart is. Because Jeremy Corbyn needs all the help he can get to get out the vote. A good start would be for Labour spokespeople and supporters to stop moaning about the Prime Minister and internal critics being ‘too opportunistic’! Since when was politics not precisely about being just that? Instead, to inspire people to vote for them, they need to start talking about what alternative vision they can offer the country. Then target that message effectively.

Looking then to the potential make up of a new Government, will a bigger Tory majority or even a coalition (remember that?) be better? To Tory haters, this may seem anathema. However, due to it’s small majority, the current Tory government is simply too beholden to a few extremists on the right (yep, I said extremists, again!). Hence the Prime Minister’s current focus on a ‘hard’ Brexit, leaving the single market, leaving the EU with no trade deal at all if we don’t like the outcome of negotiations etc. This is just one form of Brexit. Only some of the 52% of people who voted Brexit last year might have been looking for that option, we can’t know as it wasn’t on the ballot paper. I think the hard Brexit idea currently discussed is an untested, narrow niche Brexit. That is why a lot of Remainers are still angry and even some Brexiteers are annoyed at this style of Brexit being driven through. A larger Government majority will allow the Prime Minister to push back on the niche ‘Brexit at all costs’ policy. No one apart from the ‘MP free’ UKIP and the ‘MP free but direct line to the Prime Minister’ Murdoch/Daily Mail press argue that the narrow niche Brexit policy has a democratic mandate. No matter all the slurs thrown at Remain voters, to effectively lead and deliver Brexit, the Prime Minister has to bring along with her a sizeable number of the 14.8 million people who voted Remain. She knows this which is probably a large part of why she’s called this election now.

Is this election good for the other political parties? I think it is. Brexit has changed the rules of right versus left as both Labour and the Tory party are pro Brexit. Only the Lib Dems are unequivocally in favour of a second referendum on Brexit. So where do you go if you want to express your key concerns? This is where votes for the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, UKIP and the Women’s Equality Party could be key. Tactical voting in seats has always been possible. But in the past they’ve been set along simpler party lines eg. vote Green to reduce the Tory/Labour incumbent’s majority. Now these ‘alternative’ votes warrant more detailed consideration. It’s not straight forward by any means. Does your MP represent the party you vote for but as an individual they did not reflect your Brexit preferences? If they did vote the way you wanted on Brexit, are you unhappy about their party leader’s policy on Brexit? So for example, many London MPs voted Remain as individuals and defied the party whips to vote against Brexit in Parliament. They also work hard on other policies their constituents care about.

But is caveated support for the two main parties enough for you in this moment? Do Londoners need to send as clear a message as the Scots have about their views on Brexit? Should they punish mainstream party MPs by voting Lib Dem? Is the Lib Dem option clear enough given they won’t rule out a coalition with the Tories again? Should Londoners be more adventurous and vote for the Women’s Equality Party to amplify the interests of women and minorities in Brexit policy? Or is the Green Party better to support for campaigning on employment and maternity rights, the environment? Is ‘any old candidate except Labour or Conservative’ the simplest route for Remain voters? Again, as the two main parties offer little to choose between them on Brexit, this moment offers other voices the opportunity to represent diverse interests. This again can only be good for our democracy.

Is this election good or bad for the union? I think it’s unclear for now. It might be bad if you think an election now gives momentum to calls for Scottish independence. On the other hand, there is a possibility that a less niche Brexit policy dampens enthusiasm for Scotland walking away from the UK in 2019. Similar arguments could hold for Northern Ireland if less ‘hard’ Brexit options enable more flexibility on the border with the Republic etc. So retaining the union of nations and the interplay with what Brexit is offered up is still all to play for.

In the round then, if you’re a fan of democratic processes and don’t like the ‘extreme’ hard Brexit talk, I think you should be pleased. You finally get a chance to make your voice heard on the detail of these historic issues. 

In the round then, if you’re a fan of democratic processes and don’t like the ‘extreme’ hard Brexit talk, I think you should be pleased. You finally get a chance to make your voice heard on the detail of these historic issues. We will shortly see some manifestos and hopefully have more context for the diverse choices on offer. Whatever the Prime Minister’s motives for calling the vote, we are all free to exercise our views at the ballot box. Instead of endless circular rants on social media, radio phone ins and the press, we can use the election to take some of the heat out of the division and confusion on where we’re headed now by drawing a line in the sand.

Once we’ve had the election, some of the questions we are struggling with, should be eliminated. The room for ‘whataboutery’ on Brexit will of course never expire (unfortunately). But at least the policy options will be narrowed down. If you’re fed up with all the options, then get up to speed now on party manifestos, join a political party and if you want to shape their debate, go and campaign for them. By that I mean for real by knocking on people’s doors, because most of the electorate are not in your social media bubble! At the very least, get in touch with your MP to find out what they’ve been doing on Brexit and things that matter to you and give them your views. Then obviously on the day, you need to get out and vote!

It should be obvious by now that in today’s politics, nothing is a foregone conclusion. Pollsters get it wrong. Simple ideas, well explained and well targeted can be extremely influential. Anything can happen and you can be a part of making ‘change’ moments happen in our politics if you want to. (I am not talking to you Vladimir Putin, but I know you totally got this point during the Brexit campaign, but that’s another story). So, please, everyone who can, no matter what your views on Brexit or otherwise, quit complaining and go out and start listening to people, including people who disagree with you. This alone will make a world of difference. See you at the polling station on June 8th everyone, #bringiton!

By Lorraine Hamid

Lorraine is a born and bred Londoner, a former senior civil servant Economist in Whitehall. Currently a mother of one working in the property sector. Surprisingly finding herself returning to the community activism that she threw herself into as a young idealist, Lorraine is currently Co-Chair of the West London Nisa-Nisham group and a voluntary worker for homeless charity StreetLytes.

Image credit: ABC news
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Women are tearing down the walls that divide us

2016 was unfortunately marked by dog whistle politics, the rise of the Far Right, and an increase in hate crimes against women and minorities. We are living in increasingly challenging times, and when I speak to everyday grassroots women, they often tell me about their fears for their safety, anxieties about what the future holds, and report a sense that the most divisive elements of society have been emboldened on the back of political campaigns which have been dogged by xenophobic rhetoric. I was keen to participate in the Women’s March, so that I could mark the beginning of 2017 with positive action, which would unify and bring people together, irrespective of their background or views.

The Women’s March is taking place in many cities all over the world, on the 21st of January 2017, the day after President-elect Trump’s inauguration, and will be a global show of strength and solidarity of diverse communities marching for equality and the protection of fundamental rights for all.  As a passionate believer in listening to and promoting diverse women’s voices, I couldn’t wait to get involved with and support a global movement for everyone, organised and led by women.  Women’s voices are fiercely needed now more than ever before, as during the US elections we have seen how women have been demeaned, patronised and are expected to put up with routine sexual harassment.  Moreover, we are now living in a world in which for many women of colour and especially Muslim women,  physical assault, verbal abuse and anti-Muslim hate attacks, are not only on the increase but have become a daily norm. Thus it is vital that women’s voices of all backgrounds, including minority groups, are meaningfully heard, and their experiences which are often intersectional in nature – that is they face multiple challenges such as racism, misogyny and ablism – are acknowledged and amplified.

We may not all agree on all issues, but when faced overwhelmingly with the prospect that our fundamental rights to exist are being threatened, it does not matter. Critically, many unified voices will be much more effective and powerful in sending a message to those who would seek to divide, that we will not allow a climate of fear and hatred to overcome us.  And our message is clear: walls will not be built to separate us from our neighbours, Muslims are equal citizens and justice (social/political/economic) is a fundamental right for all.

It would be too easy to focus on the negative consequences of the new era of divisive politics that we now find ourselves in. This would however, only lead to despair and hopelessness, which in turn leads to fear, and this fear is exploited by the far right and other xenophobes.

It is my hope that by coming together in solidarity, across all boundaries of sexuality, ethnicity, race and religion, we will demonstrate that a united and just society is not a far away dream but a very real and tangible possibility. Change will happen when we join together to stand up to and fight for justice against misogyny, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry and hatred, taking our negative feelings of despondency and channeling them into positive affirmative action. So let’s come together to march on London, not in protest but in celebration of diversity, equality and peace.

By Akeela Ahmed

Founder & Editor

@AkeelaAhmed

 

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Muslim Women’s Voices: A Muslim Woman Researcher’s Perspective

Personally whilst growing up (and still today) I could very rarely identify with the Muslim women that were always being spoken about in the media and by politicians. Perhaps, this is reflective of my somewhat privileged position, but the Muslim women that I knew were motivated and strong both in their careers and in the home, and were supported by those in their lives. In short the Muslim women I knew were educated and intelligent and very much able to speak their own mind, albeit their voices are not always heard.

This disconnect between my own experiences and popular discourses about Muslim women also significantly influenced me in my studies. Whilst I was at school, in 2004, the French authorities passed the ban on ‘ostentatious faith symbols’ in state schools, or as I soon realised the French authorities had banned young Muslim women from wearing the headscarf at school. This ban was somewhat paradoxical and nonsensical since it was estimated that only around 600 young Muslim women wore the headscarf at the time of the ban¹, so why was there such hysteria over what some women in France wear?

“Time and time again each of these so-called affaires consistently neglects the plethora of Muslim women’s voices and adds to growing Islamophobia directed towards Muslim women.”

The French obsession with Muslim women’s dress has ‘Orientalist’ roots (see the image above). The specific fixation on Muslim women’s appearance in educational establishments dates back to 1989. However, prior to the implementation of the ban on the headscarf in schools in 2004, a commission was founded to investigate the potential prohibition. Personally, as a young student I found it problematic that the appointed representative of diversity and Muslim women’s voices was Fadela Amara. The former head of the French feminist organisation Ni Putes, Ni Soumises² was known for her typically French republican feminist stance, one that subscribes to current French secular positions that seek to remove the public visibility of faith, especially that of Islam. In her book also entitled Ni Putes, Ni Soumises, Amara describes the headscarf as a mark of oppression, submission, gender inequality, anti-feminist and anti-French. In short, Amara’s position negates the rich complexity of French Muslim women’s identities and multiple positions that they occupy and instead reduces visibly identifiable Muslim women as women who allegedly need ‘saving’.

The 2004 ban is only one of many legislative and normative measures in France that limit Muslim women’s dress; the 2010 anti-niqab law, controversies surrounding Muslim women’s headscarves in universities, long skirts in schools, what mothers wear when picking up their children from school, or the ‘burkini’ hysteria that has swept across France in recent weeks represent the ever-growing French obsession with Muslim women’s bodies.

Time and time again each of these so-called affaires consistently neglects the plethora of Muslim women’s voices and adds to growing Islamophobia directed towards Muslim women. In short, these debates obsess over Muslim women, yet they rarely afford these women a platform and instead they often contribute to worsening Muslim women’s everyday lives in France.

Recently I completed my PhD investigating the nature of Muslim women’s political participation in France and francophone Belgium. My research was based on 29 interviews with women who self-identify as Muslim and participate in variety of political activities. Among the women who took part in the study there were members of the European Parliament, national and regional parliamentarians, local councillors, trade union activists and those who took part in grass roots political activism.

This research presented an opportunity to showcase not only the nature of the political participation undertaken by Muslim women in France and Belgium, but also gave a platform for their voices. Upon reflection, I found that Muslim women encounter numerous obstacles to their political participation, and that these distinctly shaped by the spaces in which they seek to participate and also the evolving normative structures in their respective context. I was struck by the remarkable resilience of the women that shared their experiences with me – they always found ways and means of participating in politics and this was often driven by a desire to better the communities which they were very much part of.  Hearing Muslim women’s voices, be it through academic research or more accessible blogs like ‘She Speaks, We Hear’ is a tool to bring about social cohesion and improve understanding of Muslim women, to move away from the hysteria that surrounds them and to see that these women, in all their diversity, are very much part of Western society.

by Amina Easat-Daas

 ¹ See Hargreaves, A. G. (2007). Multi-Ethnic France: Immigration, Politics, Culture and Society. Abingdon, Routledge.
² Ni Putes, Ni Soumises translates as Neither Whores, nor Submissive (translation my own). The NGO was founded in response to the violence directed towards women in ghettoised French suburbs. Ni Putes, Ni Soumises is also the title of a book written by Fadela Amara (Amara, F. (2004). Ni Putes Ni Soumises. Paris, Editions La Découverte.)
Image Courtesy of The image above is taken from http://information.tv5monde.com/sites/info.tv5monde.com/files/styles/large_article/public/assets/images/288865_vignette_devoilement2.jpg?itok=zERgiXqm. The image was commonly used in French predominantly Muslim colonies. The text reads N’êtes-vous donc pas jolie? Dévoilez-vous which translates So are you not beautiful? Remove your veil. 

Amina Easat-Daas has recently completed her PhD at Aston University, Birmingham, UK. Her doctoral research is entitled Muslim Women’s Political Participation in Francophone Europe: A Comparative Analysis of France and Belgium, and it specifically examines the motivations, opportunities and barriers to political participation by Muslim women in the two cases. Amina’s broader research interests include the study of Muslim political participation and representation, Muslim women’s dress, ‘European Islam’ and anti-Muslim prejudice or Islamophobia in Europe, and has several forthcoming book chapters and articles related to these topics. Amina has worked alongside prominent European NGOs. She regularly participates in academic conferences throughout the UK and internationally, and has also previously presented some of her work related to anti-Muslim prejudice to the European Parliament in Brussels. http://aston.academia.edu/AminaEasatDaas

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website. 


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Keith Vaz’s Dirty Laundry

“…deeply troubling that a national newspaper should have paid individuals to have acted in this way” was Keith Vaz’s condemnation of the Sunday Mirror’s exposure of his meeting with two male prostitutes.

But a national newspaper committing a sting operation, when that’s it’s modus operandi, is not the same as a national public figure, who has campaigned against the very drug he was caught offering to buy a group of potentially exploited men for their use.

Sometimes the debate about what deserves to be private is simply a delay tactic of slowing down the digestion of information into it’s rightful pile of excrement. 

As amusing as it may be to envisage “Teflon Vaz” getting his “party started” with party poppers, but in an age of political scandal serialisations, the 2.4 picture perfect family not equating to a suburban sex life, should no longer really shock us.

However, operating with a degree of impunity, untouchability and sheer hypocrisy will rightfully infuriate faithful constituents.

And whatever grief, betrayal and humiliation may be experienced by family members, he alone is responsible for that. After all, you cannot be a public figure aka Mr. Washing Machine Business Owner, and not have your dirty laundry aired in public.

By Nabila Pathan

Nabila Pathan is the founder/director of the London-based Full Picture Club and an arts and culture writer focusing on diaspora Muslim communities. She also writes for Al Arabiya news. You can follow her on Twitter @nabilampathan

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website. 

Image courtesy of Daliscar1 on Flickr 


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Syrian airstrikes: why Hilary Benn’s speech left me cold

robert-downey-jr“Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.”

— Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

So earlier this week, our illustrious leaders decided to go ahead with airstrikes in Syria. I woke up the morning after hearing the news, feeling broken, deflated and hopeless. As I glanced at my three-year-old son, all I could think about was the innocent children and civilian casualties that will suffer as a result of this hasty, ill-thought-out military campaign.

The sheer hypocrisy and lack of human empathy in this whole situation is infuriating and staggering. I listened to Hilary Benn’s so-called “electrifying” speech in the House of Commons, but failed to understand why the media was raving about words that seemed so empty, so disingenuous, and so well-rehearsed. It is the rhetoric of Tony Blair all over again.

Almost two weeks ago, in an interview with the Independent, Benn argued against bombing Syria. So it is difficult for me to really believe in the weight of his words, since he seemed to change his mind pretty quickly about the whole situation.

This is politics without principle; without humanity and without empathy. In his speech, Benn spoke of the recent attacks in Paris, noting that: “If it had happened here, they could have been our children.” This is the rhetoric of pro-war propaganda. There should be no such thing as “our children” and “their children”. It should just be about our shared humanity. Does it matter who these children belong to, or which nation they happen to be born in?

The language used seems to imply that certain lives are just deemed less important than others. When talking about civilian casualties, Benn sought to distance himself from ISIS, saying: “Unlike Daesh, none of us today act with the intent to harm civilians. Rather, we act to protect civilians from Daesh, who target innocent people.”

The fact that this needs to spelled out is telling and worrying. Not having the intention to kill innocent civilians is empty and meaningless when you know  that military action will inevitably harm them. It is truly shocking that civilian casualties are talked about in such a flippant and casual way, as if their lives are somehow expendable.don't bomb syria

If the government was truly concerned about the civilian population of Raqqa, they would formulate a coherent military strategy to not only minimise the loss of life, but also have a long-term plan to deal with the consequences of airstrikes. It is blindingly obvious that nations that carry out military activity have a responsibility for the fallout and must know how to deal coherently with the aftermath of war. But what we’re hearing from our politicians is only about the immediate airstrikes with no consideration of what happens next.

Our politicians feel that they have to be seen to be doing something, anything, without really thinking about the effectiveness of airstrikes against Isis. As Labour MP, Gerald Kaufman, said in his speech to the Commons: “If what the government were proposing today, would in any way, not simply or not totally get rid of Daesh, but weaken them in a significant way so they would not go on behaving in the abominable fashion we see, I wouldn’t have any difficult in voting for this motion today. But there is absolutely no evidence of any kind that any kind that bombing Daesh, that bombing Raqqa, will result in an upsurge of other people in the region to get rid of them.”

In fact, there is mounting evidence that going to war is playing into the hands of Daesh and giving them exactly what they want. The French journalist, Nicolas Hénin, who was held hostage by Mohammad Emwazi, said that military action was a trap that would only strengthen and benefit Isis.

During the Iraq war, politicians talked about winning the hearts and mind of the Iraqi people, though it never really developed much further than talking. It’s clear that a military solution hasn’t been effective in the past, so maybe it’s time to try something else. Hénin argues that the surest way to defeat Isis is to engage with the Syrian people, stating that “as soon as the people have hope in the political solution, then Islamic State will just collapse. It will have no ground any more. It will collapse.”

Today, The Independent reported that at least five Syrian children have been killed in an airstrike on a school in Raqqa. If you needed any more evidence of the emptiness of politicians’ intentions not to harm civilians, here it is. Despite assurances from Cameron, it is obvious that in such a densely populated area such as Raqqa, children and innocent people will inevitably be killed.

Some ten years ago, I joined a million people to protest against military action in Iraq. It was one of Britain’s largest anti-war demonstrations to date. The casual dismissal by the government of the voice of the people helps to explain some of the apathy and cynicism we see in politics today.

Today, as back then, it seems that politicians are not interested in listening to the British people. It’s a tragedy that Britain has learnt nothing from its mistakes of the past; today the British government will do what it has always done; bullishly enter a conflict without a coherent military strategy and without due consideration of the loss of life and resulting humanitarian crisis. It really does seem as if nothing changes.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

— George Orwell

Image credits: Neil Schofield via Flickr; https://www.flickr.com/photos/neil_schofield/23283725182/http://memegenerator.net/instance/57725519
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.